The long-established view that Maori patients are best treated by Maori clinicians is under challenge by a psychologist completing a doctorate on the subject.
Inez Awatere-Walker, a senior clinical psychologist with the Hastings community mental health team, is four years into her study, titled Maori mental health recovery: Success stories of non-Maori clinicians.
The idea for her study, which she is doing through the Auckland University of Technology, came from four years spent working in mental health in England, where she treated patients from a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities.
She said that, on returning to New Zealand five years ago: "I started to ask: how does this recovery happen when clinician and patient have a different world view, come from a completely different culture?
"There is a long-established view that Maori are best served by Maori. Most Maori scholars would subscribe to that. But that's not always the reality," said Ms Awatere-Walker, who has been a psychologist for about 20 years.
"It's not the view held by practitioners working in the mainstream, who tend to hold the view that you treat all people the same regardless of their culture, gender, sexuality, religion etc.
"They don't see that it should be just Maori for Maori. But that's not to say they're opposed to kaupapa Maori services," she said.
"I've never thought that I had to live someone else's life, or have their experiences, to be able to work with them. In fact, it can be beneficial, even necessary, for there to be differences."
She said mandatory training in biculturalism was important, "but in the course of my research I've had a lot of people tell me they left that training feeling inadequate to work with Maori and that they felt they shouldn't do so. It's quite disempowering for them".
Some people had been very supportive of her studies and others felt she was undermining "for Maori, by Maori" treatment.
Last week Ms Awatere-Walker was granted the Ngarimu VC and 28th Maori Battalion Scholarship Fund for 2013-14. She had been taking a day of unpaid leave each week for study purposes but will now condense the final two years of study into a shorter timeframe.
Jean Te Huia, chief executive of Maori health provider Kahungunu Health Services, said her organisation subscribed to the "for Maori, by Maori" philosophy, begun by Maori academic Mason Durie in the 1980s. "Each ethnicity has their own values and beliefs system. If you are of the same ethnicity as the person you are caring for then, in my mind, you can overcome some of the barriers such as language."
- The Dominion Post
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